By Sandi Krasowski
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
THUNDER BAY, ONT.-More than 100 Indigenous people in Northwestern Ontario are being trained for careers in the skilled trades in an effort for the province to alleviate the labour shortages in forestry and mining.
A $1.5-million investment in three Thunder Bay training initiatives involves a partnership between the Anishinabek Employment and Training Services (AETS) with the Carpenters Union Local 1669.
Participants are introduced to general carpentry as well as the basics of welding and electrical trades. This pre-apprenticeship training program includes classroom training and a 12-week paid work placement to gain valuable hands-on experience. The funding is part of an overall $77-million funding commitment by the province to entice more young people to enter in-demand skilled trades careers.
Anishinabek Employment and Training Services is one of 22 centres in Ontario that works with nine First Nations in the North Superior region.
John DeGiacomo, the AETS executive director, says they have 36 seats for the carpentry pre-apprenticeship training program, which has been running this year.
“We’ve had 15 graduates so far and we’ve got six employed and some on wage subsidies,” DeGiacomo said.
“These subsidies (which are part of the overall funding) allow the employer to pre-screen these individuals prior to considering them for full-time employment.”
DeGiacomo says AETS works with about 10 cohorts, two of which are with the carpentry union and one is with Confederation College.
Segments of the funding cover everything from a $1,000 equipment grant for each apprentice, the wage subsidy, transportation, accommodation and the training allowance that the individuals need while they’re in training.
Newly trained graduates are able to find work in many of the skilled trade sectors. Some of the graduates stay on with their placement employers, some seek work in a different sector while others return to their respective communities to work in construction and building.
Evan Reid, union co-ordinator for Local 1669, says they are the training arm of the initiative and have made their training centre and instructors available for 24 weeks of the year to train Indigenous persons in carpentry.
“The students are receiving pre-apprenticeship carpentry training, which gives them good skill sets for entering the workforce,” Reid said. “They come out of here with all the occupational health and safety training and certification that’s mandatory to work in construction.”
Reid says it might be more difficult for some participants because of logistics but partnerships with other organizations provide those wrap-around supports, whether that’s accommodations when they’re in Thunder Bay or even child care.
He says not everybody that’s come through the program completed it.
“But the ones that are here for the right reasons, we’re certainly willing to support those people and we’re definitely on the lookout for more in the future,” he said.
Monte McNaughton, minister of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development, had a visit planned in Thunder Bay to meet with Reid and DeGiacomo at the Carpentry Union. He is also advocating a series of youth job fairs across the province, one of which will take place in Thunder Bay on Nov. 29.
“Everything that our government is doing around this skilled trade is based around really three pillars, ending the stigma around the trades, simplifying the apprenticeship system, and encouraging employers to bring on apprentices,” McNaughton said.
He said province-wide today, 400,000 jobs are going unfilled. In March 2020, there were 200,000 job vacancies.
`We’re offering up to $17,000 per employer for every apprentice that they bring on and we’re also giving every apprentice up to
$1,000 for tools to help them get started into the trades. It used to be a loan for tools and we switched that about a year ago to grants for tools.”
An additional $644,000 investment to the Kiikenomaga Kikenjigewen Employment and Training Services will help 35 Indigenous people prepare for jobs as construction craft workers, plumbers and electricians. The program is available to anyone from the nine Matawa First Nations communities in the Thunder Bay region and is free for all participants.
Sandi Krasowski is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with THE CHRONICLE-JOURNAL. The LJI program is federally funded.